How A Bag Of Coins Changed My Life

by Ryann Roberts
Originally Published: 
Courtesy of Ryann Roberts

Last year, toward the end of summer, my five-year-old son and a bunch of his kindergarten friends decided to set up a lemonade stand in our downtown Chicago neighborhood. Their business plan was solid: lemonade was free, but donations were welcome.

My son, after I repeatedly declined his request to use the “lemonade money” for Pokémon cards, agreed to the plan of donating the money to The National Immigrant Justice Center, an organization that relentlessly advocates for children and their families. He said he liked the idea of helping other kids.

Over the next few days, we gathered supplies and recruited eager workers. The morning of the lemonade stand, my son popped out of bed as if it were Christmas. After breakfast, we lugged our supplies a few blocks down the street, and suddenly, we were open for business.

Seraphina was his first friend to arrive. I could see her coming a block away. It was something about the way the light caught her hot pink sequined wristlet that made her easy to spot.

Before even saying good morning, Seraphina marched up and proudly dumped the contents of her hot pink wristlet into the donation box. She smiled as the coins clattered into the box.

“That’s all I’ve got!” she exclaimed when all of the coins had been emptied and then happily started yelling, “Lemonade, lemonade, come and get your free lemonade!!”

Seraphina’s mom winked at me and said, “It’s everything she had.” Everything she had was $6.72. I know this because Seraphina was the only person to put coins in the box.

At the end of the day, when our supply was out, and the kids all had to go home to pee, my son and I sat down and opened the box to count the donations. $437.52!!!

I couldn’t believe how much people had given, yet Hudson, either having greater faith in humanity or having zero concept of money, acted like it was no big deal.

Courtesy of Ryann Roberts

I thought about Seraphina as I dumped her change out of the box into a plastic bag. On the bag, I wrote “Seraphina’s Change.” I smiled as I thought about how she had given so innocently. I’m not even sure if she knew where the money was going; all she knew was that someone needed it more than she did.

The next morning I excitedly emailed the Executive Director of the National Immigrant Justice Center and told her what the kids had accomplished. She and her staff were touched

I used my credit card to donate $437.52 online, much easier than finding a check.

Now I was stuck with a fistful of cash. As a mother of the CEO of a thriving lemonade stand, I quickly learned that most of the profits come to you in dollar bill form. I now had a wad of 256 dollar bills.

I wrapped it in a rubber band and thought about what I should do with it. I obviously had to make it rain at least once, but after that, what was I supposed to do with an admittedly suspicious dollar bill wad?

I could have gone to the bank and deposited it, but at that moment, I was in the position where the $256 wasn’t going to make or break me.

I set it on the counter right next to the bag of Seraphina’s change. I looked at them both, and a thought came to me. I was going to use the money the way Seraphina showed me. I was going to give freely, willingly, and without judgment. I tossed the wad of cash in my purse and went to work.


That morning started many months of having the opportunity to give with abandon. Here are a few of the highlights.

I filled up a gas can for a man who ran out of gas, and apparently money. As the pump clicked off, he looked me straight in the eyes and said, “God bless you,” and it felt like he meant it.

I treated a mom in line behind me to coffee and breakfast sandwiches. She happily accepted and promised she would “pay it forward.” I promised her that her baby would sleep through the night, eventually.

I bought an umbrella from a convenience store to give to an older man that was standing out in the rain, holding wet newspapers over his head. It looked like his suit was about to be ruined. He was happy for the umbrella but seemed confused as to why I gave it to him.

I gave Uber drivers big tips, and I learned if you want a five-star rating, that’s where you start.

I did a bunch of stuff in secret, too. Stuff that only the person on the receiving end will know.

I was generously rewarded with smiles, words of thanks, hugs from strangers, and fascinating conversations that I wouldn’t have had if not for my chance encounter with a bag of change.

I gave away the last dollar bill this morning, and it felt a little sad. Then I realized that when you give, the way that Seraphina gave, the money often becomes secondary to the intention behind it. When I peeled back those dollar bills, I let people know that we can all look out for each other. That feeling of togetherness is something I can always focus on giving, with or without money.

I don’t know what I will eventually spend Seraphina’s change on, and so for now, it will stay in a plastic bag, inspiring me. I’m sure that soon it will be time to pass it on, and then I will freely empty its contents into the right hands, all $6.72 worth!

I looked over at the bag and read, “Seraphina’s Change.”

I thought about the word change and smiled. Seraphina didn’t even realize how much change she had actually given.

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